Great day for digging in the dirt

Today was supposed to be a washout with wind and storms.  I was looking forward to it.  Rain for the garden and pastures — lightning and hail to keep us from having to do lots of chores outside in the muggy weather!  


So what was I to do?  


When the weather gets tough, the tough get baking!


I wanted to use up some of our sourdough starter that I fed a couple of days ago along with some of the whey leftover from yesterday’s ricotta adventure.  


I threw a sweet bread into the bread machine, then after it had mixed and raised once, I grabbed the dough and assaulted it with cinnamon, sugar, butter and raisins.


Here’s what resulted from that!




After lunch I realized that this rain was going to be another non-event.  So now what?  


I had a look at “the list” and saw that the potatoes needed to be harvested.  That huge chore was going to be saved for Saturday, but as the week has progressed, more and more chores were being added to Saturday’s dance card, so I thought perhaps we could knock this one off the list.  After all, I had wanted an overcast day for this chore, and it couldn’t really be done in the rain or right after a storm.  Conditions were perfect.


First, scroll back a couple of months to April.  Remember all of those seed potatoes, 50 pounds, nicely cut and ready to be planted?




Well, those lovely spuds ended up giving us an incredible yield!


We grabbed gloves, a pitchfork, a wheelbarrow and the camera and “dug in.”


3 hours later we had 400 lbs of Kennebec potatoes on our front porch and sweaty, dirty kids (and mom) hitting the shower!


Here’s the play by play…


Dig under with the pitchfork…




Lift it and move it over to the side for children to hunt through for taters…it’s actually fun…(for a little while!)




Get a look at that gorgeous soil!  That there’s potato growing stuff!




All finished!




The pile of spent plants…




Having fun arranging them on our front porch to dry out (yeah right, in the impending thunderstorms and high winds tonight, if they ever happen!)




Quite a sight!


Dairy project du jour

I finally made cheese!


So what if it’s the easiest cheese to make, with the least ingredients!  It tastes great!


With only 2 ingredients, a stove and butter muslin, I have made the yummiest ricotta!


Ricotta is one of the few cheeses that does not require rennin to set the curd.  For ricotta you need only slowly heat 1 quart of buttermilk mixed in a gallon of whole milk to 180 degrees.  After the milks are combined, you don’t even have to stir it!  How easy is that?  Magically the curds appear near the surface, floating in a sea of whey. 


No way!


Yes, whey! (sorry, couldn’t resist!  We loved that movie line in New in Town!)


Yesterday I bought a quart of cultured buttermilk — not the stuff with all of the artificial thickeners, mind you, but real cultutured milk.  I didn’t want to use the whole quart and be left with no more buttermilk, so I first let it culture with whole milk on the counter overnight to double my quantity — 3:1 milk to buttermilk, allowed to stand in a jar with the lid just covering (not screwed down) will result in some nice thick buttermilk!


I mixed a quart of this into a gallon of whole milk and started heating it to a little over 180.  The curds were then scooped into a colander lined with butter muslin cloth and allowed to stand until the ricotta was at the desired consistency.




It tastes great – I’ve got lots of whey left over to add to our homemade bread instead of water.  Here it is, nestled in the fridge next to half of today’s bean pick.




It tasted great even when it was warm!

Can’t wait to eat it when it’s chilled!



Bacteria in my kitchen

I never thought I’d publicly boast about the microorganisms growing in my kitchen.  


I’m not talking about pathogens…I’m talking about healthy lactobacilli and a few yeasts here an there!


In addition to our 4 footed creatures here at Morning Star Meadows, we are “farming” quite a few cultures right here on our countertop!


A couple of years ago we were given our first kefir grains — after I had tried unsucessfully to create them from some powdered kefir culture that I had bought.  Seems that cultures from the powder do not self perpetuate, so when we received our first grains from Hurst Family Farm, we were definitely in the business of making Kefir!


This morning I strained a batch that had been sitting out since yesterday and recovered the grains, put them in a new jar, added milk and those lactobacilli are happily munching away on the milk sugars, creating bigger grains and more Kefir.  Eventually we’ll have enough grains to share!




We should have enough strained Kefir in the fridge now to make some fruit smoothies for lunch!


I decided not long after, on the advice of my neighbor, to start making our own yogurt.  I had told him that what was stopping me was having to use electricity to keep the culture warm while it developed into yogurt.  He had told me that when they were kids on a farm his family would make their own yogurt in a styrofoam cooler type device.  We started searching the net and found the Yogotherm, an ingenious little incubator that uses no electricity.  It has served us well!


Up until today I have been using yogurt from the store as our starter culture.  This works fine for a few times, saving a bit from each batch to seed a new batch.  But eventually the culture gives out and I have to buy more yogurt.  Better than buying it all the time, but still not ideal.

Here’s what’s left of our last batch:



Today I am making a Bulgarian yogurt mother culture from a dried starter that I purchased online from Cultures for Health.  This cuture is a reusable heirloom variety of yogurt that should survive to culture many, many batches.




First I had to heat the milk to over 160 degrees, then cool it to 110 before mixing in the yogurt powder.  It will incubate in the Yogotherm for several hours.  Then this mother culture can be used to start batches of yogurt for the family.  Each week we will use some of this mother culture to make a new mother culture from which to make yogurt.







We’ve also cultured our own buttermilk using a 1:4 ratio of cultured buttermilk from the store mixed with milk and allowing it to stand in a jar on the counter until it becomes a batch of buttermilk.  No need to even heat the milk first!


Our other bacterial culture at present is a “sourdough” starter that was gifted to us by our friends at Studio Farms.  We have been using this culture to make some interesting breads, the latest of which was a cinnamon raisin sourdough bread this morning for breakfast!  We feed this culture every few days with sugar and instant mashed potato flakes, interestingly enough!  It’s presently resting in the fridge.




So don’t be afraid to do a little microscopic farming in your kitchen!  It certainly has it’s gastronomic rewards!








In the summertime…

Wow!  What a scorcher it is today!


I am guiltily sitting here blogging in air conditioned comfort today while our poor animals swelter.  But alas, we can’t bring them inside.  So I just keep checking on them, refreshing their water with cold well water, bringing them branches to distract them from the heat and flies, running a sprinkler on their pastures, and just generally worrying about them!


This past weekend we indulged in true summertime activities!


Friday night was our night to enjoy the North Stonington Agricultural fair.  The kids all got to see their entries displayed in the arts and crafts and herbs/flower barns and take account of all of their ribbons!



After a row is cut, it’s time for the crew to move in and put together the sheaves, taking care to line up the cut ends.




The sheaves are then tied.  One of the boys got fancy and tied it with oat stems!



Then they are stood up in the field.  Ideally they would leave them standing up to dry out a bit more, but with the threat of rain, they were put on the hay wagon and brought to the barn until the rain passed.  I’m sure they’re out drying today in this heat!




Ready to go to the barn…So, if you ride in a haywagon, it’s called a “hay ride”, right?  So when we jumped on the back was it called an “Oat ride?”



The rain began not long after, but not before I snapped a couple of priceless photos around the farm…







We all picked gallons of blueberries in the rain, chatting away and enjoying each other’s company, trying to remember some fun Irish ballads, trying to avoid the poison ivy that had established itself at the base of some of the bushes, and trying to put more in the pail than we did in our mouths!  



Busy week!

We’ve had a busy week of visitors at Morning Star Meadows! 


Saturday we enjoyed the company of Matilda, Esther and Coffee’s (our new moorit ram lamb) soon-to-be new “person”!  She and her sister drove well over 2 hours from western MA to visit and share in some of the farm chores here on Saturday.  They got to hug some lambs and do a flock check in sweltering heat!  We were grateful for their company and assistance!  I know that these three sheep are going to a wonderful new home in a few short weeks, where their new person will be breeding Icelandics and milking ewes for homemade cheeses!


Yesterday we had another MA visitor from high up in the Berkshires.  He is part of an agricultural community there and will be bringing home 2 or 3 of our Icelandics to raise for wool and milk/cheese to support their community in August. 


I’m so excited for both of these farms, and for the sheep who get to go to a cooler climate this summer!  Nothing like having an extended vacation in the Berkshires, eh?!


We then spent the afternoon with a Agricultural Science student collecting data from our sheep for a parasite control program study that is funded under a grant through Sustainable Research and Education through the USDA.  


We have been practicing an integrated parasite management program here at the farm in an attempt to reduce dewormer resistance.  We are, basically, farming our internal parasites in our sheep!  


Instead of just worming all of the animals every 6-8 weeks, we are checking each animal every week for evidence of anemia through the FAMACHA system, where we compare the color of their conjunctiva to colors on a laminated card to objectively rate each animal to different levels of anemia.  Only anemic animals need be wormed.  Each time an animal is wormed, some worms that are resistant to the anthelmintic will be eliminated by the animal onto the pasture.  We want to provide as few of these resistant worms as possible on the pasture to breed with the susceptible worms, therefore reducing drug resistance.


So yesterday the student collected fecal samples to be analyzed at the University of Rhode Island, weighed the animals and we checked each one for anemia and body condition.  We happiy received a clean score with FAMACHA checking, and learned the present weight of all of our animals for future reference when dosing with anthelmintic, as it is very important not to underdose with dewormer, as this also creates for resistant worms.


Today we shifted gears a bit and prepared all of our entries into the Arts and Crafts/herbs/flowers/vegetable contests at the North Stonington Agricultural Fair.  Here’s a sampling:


Herbed Artisan Bread



Snickerdoodles for the Junior Baking Contest



To-die-for chocolate chips for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Contest



5 lettuce leaves



Head lettuce



Wildflower bouquet



Columbine specimen



Assorted herbs



Best dozen of eggs



Rock collection






Sea Shell collection



Yarn, knitted items, sewn items



Kennebec potatoes






and last but not least…carrots!


We were so surprised when we unearthed these root vegetables!  I guess I know what we’ll soon be harvesting and storing away!!


See you at the fair!

We interrupt this day for an important delivery!

This past Saturday was like most Saturdays here at the farm…busy!  


We worked the sheep in the morning, put up portable electric fencing in the front yard for them to start their lawnmowing routine, escaped a little of the mid-day heat with a trip to Tractor Supply with our coveted 10% off coupon, then returned for some garden work and fencing of the “back 40”  (well, actually more like the back “3”). 


We had sent the kids up for dinner, and Roy and I had just installed a gate on the new fence we’ve nearly finished down the back.  We were planning to install a wheel on the bottom of the gate and call it a night when, around 6:30pm Roy was summoned to the phone to speak to our hay supplying friends at Valley View Farm in Clarks Falls.


They had a hay wagon full of beautiful second cut hay with our name on it and wanted to know if they could deliver it…in about 20 minutes!  


How could we refuse?  They had been haying all day and had to unload the wagon, so why handle it twice when they could just pack it in our barn?


Tired as we were – greatly fatigued by the heat of the day, which was starting to dissipate with the arrival of some cloud cover — we sprung into action, assisted by nearly every family member.


We still had about 100 bales from last year that needed to be moved from the loft and stacked on the first floor.  Not to mention, we realized that the lovely sheep grazing in our front yard were fenced over the road that the hay wagon would need to travel upon!


About 30 minutes later – maybe less – the hay was stacked, the sheep were moved, the fences were relocateded and gates were open in anticipation of the hay, which soon arrived!


Hay wagon’s here…



Following it down to the barn…




Excited children…




Excited Daddy…




Backing up to the loft door…




A little further…




Ready to roll…




These guys have to be so tired after haying all day!








Artsy-smartsy picture…




Last bale in place…




And so ends another “routine” day at Morning Star Meadows!

(cue the cricket chirping…)

‘Night John-boy!




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